Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Don't Arm The Cannibals,' Vlad Tells Dave

Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak as they take part in a ceremony to award the Russian Ushakov medal to Arctic convoy veterans inside 10 Downing Street, London.
Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak as they take part in a ceremony to award the Russian Ushakov medal to Arctic convoy veterans inside 10 Downing Street, London.

The ten things you need to know on 17 June 2013...


Our prime minister is starting to look pretty isolated on Syria.

The Times reports on the "icy Downing Street press conference" between Messrs Cameron and Putin, ahead of today's UK-hosted G8 summit:

"David Cameron was warned last night that he would risk arming extremists who 'eat the organs' of their enemies if he handed weapons to Syrian rebels.

"In an extraordinary riposte to the Prime Minister, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the brutal tactics used by some of the rebels battling to topple Bashir Assad’s regime were at odds with the 'humanitarian and cultural values' of Europe."

The Independent reports that "when Mr Putin was asked by British journalists about comments by Mr Cameron last year – that those supporting President Assad had the blood of Syrian children on their hands – he reacted angrily. He said: “One does not need to support people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support?"

I'm no fan of the autocratic and egomaniacal Russian president but he does have a point. Doesn't he?

The universal view among Fleet Street commentators and leader-writers in this morning's papers is that arming the rebels would be a dangerous, if not catastrophic, move. But it isn't just journalists abandoning Dave on Syria. Yesterday, it was the deputy prime minister; today, it's the Tory mayor of London, the (Tory) former head of the army and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

From the Telegraph's splash:

"Arming the Syrian rebels would be disastrous because Britain would be 'pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs', Boris Johnson says today.

"The Mayor of London warns David Cameron that the UK must not use Syria as an 'arena for muscle–flexing' and says that any weapons sent to the country's opposition could end up in the hands of al–Qaeda.

"... Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson says the only solution in Syria is a 'total ceasefire' and claims that it will be 'impossible' to arm the rebels without weapons ending up in the hands of 'al–Qaeda–affiliated thugs'.

"'This is the moment for a total ceasefire, an end to the madness,' Mr Johnson writes. 'It is time for the US, Russia, the EU, Turkey, Iran, Saudi and all the players to convene an intergovernmental conference to try to halt the carnage.'"

The paper adds:

"Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, warned that supplying arms to the Syrian opposition could turn into a 'much larger intervention'.

"... He said the risk of supplying small arms is that it 'becomes the thin end of the wedge'.

"Dr Sentamu warned that arming the rebels could be a 'naive position to take' because it is impossible to know who the 'good guys' are."


The Guardian splashes on the latest revelations from US whistleblower Edward Snowden - and they have a particularly British twist:

"Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

"The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week."

Awk-ward! The paper adds:

"The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey."


The Lord Rennard 'groping' story isn't going away - from the Sun:

"Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard was quizzed by cops yesterday over allegations he groped women.

"The former elections guru, 52, was interviewed at a South London police station.

"A number of women party activists and workers have accused the peer of sexual harassment.

"Cops launched a formal investigation in April after interviewing alleged victims.

"The peer’s solicitors said in a statement: 'We can confirm that Lord Rennard agreed to meet with the police and that he welcomed his first opportunity to refute the basis of allegations made against him.'"

Last week, remember, an independent report commissioned by Clegg slammed the deputy PM and his Lib Dem ministerial colleagues for failing to investigate the allegations themselves.


According to the Mirror's Kevin Maguire, Labour's Stephen Twigg "appears finally to have woken from hibernation and realised the party needs an education policy". But is it the right one? Yesterday, the Blairite shadow education secretary threatened teachers without proper qualifications at academies and free schools that they face the sack under a future Labour government; today, however, we learn that he wants to extend academy 'freedoms' to all other schools.

From the Independent:

"Every state school in the country will be able to choose its own curriculum and lengthen term times if Labour wins the next general election, the shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, will pledge.

"In a speech at the Royal Society for the Arts this morning, Mr Twigg will give a promise that Labour will extend to all schools the freedoms the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, currently reserves for free schools and academies.

"The pledge will give all schools freedom to determine their own curriculum - as long as they teach the core subjects of English, maths and science and deliver a 'broad and balanced' experience. They will also be allowed to extend the school term to help improve results. All schools will also have the freedom to buy in services - such as special educational needs and tailor-made extra support services for struggling pupils - from whoever they want.

"'I am setting out how Labour will bring order to the chaos Michael Gove has created in our school system,' Mr Twigg will say."


Surprise, surprise! From the FT front page:

"George Osborne is to give his strongest signal yet that he wants to move Lloyds Banking Group back into private ownership by the 2015 general election, albeit not at a price that would leave taxpayers out of pocket.

"The chancellor will refuse to lay out a specific 'timetable' on the sale of government stakes in either RBS or Lloyds in his annual Mansion House speech on Wednesday, according to aides.

"He will indicate that Lloyds is closer to a privatisation than RBS, reflected in its healthier share price. But, while the Treasury wants a Lloyds sell-off before 2015, it is cautious about boxing itself into a rigid timeline about the timing or price of any share sales."

Forget the timing or cost of privatisation for a moment - the bigger issue is whether returning Lloyds (and, for that matter, RBS) to an unreformed financial sector is the right thing to do. Shouldn't these megabanks be broken up first so that they're not 'too big to fail'? Shouldn't the coalition examine Germany's regional system of banking and learn some lessons from it?


Watch this video of an otter getting a drink from a vending machine!


From the Guardian:

"The prime minister should be given the power to appoint the most senior civil servants who run Whitehall departments, a government-commissioned report has recommended.

"The IPPR thinktank also recommends providing ministers with a larger 'extended office' that would be made up of mixture of political advisers and non-partisan outside experts, as well as career civil servants.

"The report ordered by the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, suggests there is cross-party frustration at aspects of civil service accountability. Maude gave the report a strong welcome, and it is likely at the very least to be the basis for the next stage of his reform agenda."

Hmm. Do we really want to go down the American road? Don't the pros of a neutral civil service outweigh the cons of bureaucracy, etc?


The Daily Mail continues its campaign to make it harder to access child pornography online - and secures the support of the prime minister. From the paper's splash:

"David Cameron yesterday admitted he fears online porn could harm his children.

"The Prime Minister says he worries when any of his three children ‘grab hold of the iPad’ because they risk seeing obscene


"‘The world has changed so fundamentally with the internet that we’ve got some real threats there to our children and also from this appalling scourge of child pornography,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to take a lot of action.’

"... At a summit tomorrow, ministers and charities will demand action from internet service providers."


This Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Julian Assange's decision to seek asylum inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London - in order to avoid extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sexual assault. The Ecuadorean foreign minister, it seems, is in town to check up on him.

From the Guardian:

"Ecuador's foreign minister has arrived in Britain for talks with William Hague over the future of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been confined to the Ecuadorean embassy in London for almost a year.

"Ricardo Patino met Assange on Sunday and will meet Hague on Monday. On Wednesday it will be one year since the WikiLeaks founder walked into the embassy in Knightsbridge in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex assault and rape accusations, which he denies."

"... Patino said Assange was in "good spirits" despite the "limitations of his accommodation".

"He added: 'I was able to say face to face to him, for the first time, that the government of Ecuador remains firmly committed to protecting his human rights and that we continue to seek cast-iron assurances to avoid any onward extradition to a third state.'

"...Since Assange entered the embassy, the Metropolitan police have maintained a round-the-clock guard, which cost £3.3m up to March."


Speaking on Sky News on Friday, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander tried to make the case for further cuts to the Ministry of Defence budget: "Of course in a department that has more horses than it has tanks, there is room for efficiency savings without affecting our overall military output."

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, and asked about the horses vs tanks comment, the prime minister decided to slap down his Lib Dem chief secretary: "One can be a bit simplistic if you’re not careful. One of the reasons they have fewer tanks is actually in the defence review we decided, I think rightly, that we had too many battle tanks defending Europe from aggression which was rather a sort of cold war stance but we didn’t have enough investment in modern transport planes, in drones, in cyber capabilities and the rest of it.

"So actually in the defence review we reduced the number of tanks and put money into other areas. I don’t want to make simplistic arguments about this."



Forget the tensions over Syria, the Sun splashes on news of the real divide between Russia and the United States at this week's G8 summit:

"Barack Obama won a 'cold war' victory ahead of the G8 summit after bagging a gym — and leaving Vladimir Putin to exercise in an icy lake.

"The US and Russian leaders... both bid for exclusive use of the fitness suite at the five-star resort hosting the talks in Northern Ireland.

"Neither wanted to back down — or work out together. But the stand-off was won by the 51-year-old US President as hardman Putin said he would get his fitness fix swimming in the lake surrounding Co Fermanagh's Lough Erne hotel."

A semi-serious question: do western leaders really want to wind Vlad up just hours before they ask him to please stop arming and backing the Assad regime?


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

This would give Labour a majority of 96.


Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Boris the bold can be the Tories’ salvation."

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent, says: "The best way to fight the EDL's anti-Muslim bigotry is by showing solidarity on the streets."

Google's Eric Schmidt, writing in the Financial Times, says: "Why we need to simplify our corporate tax system."

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